The human dimensions of wave resource management

In California, coastal counties comprise just 21% of the state’s land area, but 69% of its population, 66% of its jobs, and 69% of its GDP. The ocean-dependent economic sector contributes more than $35 billion to California’s economy per year. Once dominated by industries like fishing and transportation, this sector is now largely composed of the tourism and recreation industries that thrive on the state's ample public coastal access.

Current trends in ocean and coastal resource management are towards combined social-ecological approaches that consider these areas as "peopled seascapes." In California, the individuals peopling our seascape are surfers; waves are the resource they rely on most. How will sea-level rise impact wave resource quality? How will wave quality be impacted by coastal management interventions? How will these changes impact California's estimated 1 million surfers? What does this mean for the multi-billion dollar surfing industry? What does this mean for the coastal communities in California where surfing is a cultural and economic powerhouse? By combining the knowledge of citizen-scientists with interdisciplinary methodologies, this project seeks to answer these questions.

The California coast is a complex coupled social-ecological system: managing its many people, industries, and natural resources is a daunting challenge. Breaking waves are an important resource on California's coast, where they support the recreation of 1.1 million surfers, inject millions of dollars into local economies, and define the culture and character of many individuals and communities. Sustainably managing wave resources for the benefit of both healthy coastal ecosystems and present and future generations of resource users requires understanding the human dimensions of wave resources within this social-ecological context. My research advances this understanding by investigating new sources of management-relevant knowledge of wave resources, projecting the future impacts of human activities on these resources, and exploring the effects of such impacts on the users themselves. Based on a survey of more than 1,000 California surfers, I find that these resource users develop valuable local ecological knowledge—wave knowledge—of the coastal system and, as a result, could contribute meaningfully to coastal research and management efforts. By combining this knowledge with oceanographic principles, I project that one-third of wave resources ("surf-spots") evaluated in California through the survey are vulnerable and could disappear as a result of sea level rise by 2100. I also find that surfers nurture deep, personal attachments to specific surf-spots and thus, as important stakeholders and potential stewards, are likewise susceptible to changing conditions of wave resources. Review of California's coastal governance setting reveals that while formal institutions for managing coastal resources exist and have significant implications for wave resource quality, these institutions typically do not directly address wave resource quality. I conclude that waves are vital and vulnerable natural resources in California. This research enhances our understanding of California's coastal social-ecological system and lays the groundwork for further study of the human dimensions of wave resources.